Navy's conference hopes take another hit with 34-26 loss to Temple
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: November 3, 2017
PHILADELPHIA (Tribune News Service) — Head coach Ken Niumatalolo spent two weeks talking about the need to play Navy football during Thursday night’s nationally televised contest against Temple. On Navy’s second offensive play from scrimmage, wide receiver Tyler Carmona was whistled for a block in the back.
That was the first of several costly penalties and the Midshipmen made plenty of mental mistakes as well on the way to a third straight loss.
Quarterback Frank Nutile completed 22 of 30 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns as Temple defeated Navy, 34-26, in the ESPN Thursday Night Game of the Week at Lincoln Financial Field.
Playing on the home field of the Philadelphia Eagles, Nutile performed his best impression of Carson Wentz in shredding the Navy pass defense in just his second career start. Wide receiver Adonis Jennings repeatedly torched cornerback Elijah Merchant for five catches totaling 127 yards and two touchdowns for the Owls (4-5, 2-3), who snapped a two-game losing streak.
Wide receiver Keith Kirkwood also had a big game with seven catches for 87 yards and a score for Temple, which never trailed in the contest. The Owls rolled up 393 total yards, scored on their initial six possessions and did not punt until there were less than five minutes remaining.
While its defense offered almost no resistance, the Navy offense was inconsistent once again. The Midshipmen settled for two field goals and were forced to punt twice on four straight possessions to start the game, enabling the Owls to build a comfortable lead.
Quarterback Zach Abey was limited to 60 rushing yards on 25 carries as the Navy offense was stagnant most of the night. Abey completed 6 of 9 passes for 111 yards as the Midshipmen fell to 5-3 overall and 3-3 in the American Athletic Conference.
“Hat’s off to Temple. They coached way better than we did, played way better than we did,” Niumatalolo said. “We couldn’t stop them in the first half. We couldn’t run the ball on offense. I’m proud of the way our kids played at the end, but for 3 ½ quarters they just beat the crap out of us.”
Abey tossed an interception midway through the third quarter and was injured on the play after absorbing a hard hit by linebacker Shaun Bradley. The Archbishop Spalding product seemed to be favoring his left (non-throwing) arm as he was helped off the field by team trainers. Backup quarterback Garrett Lewis replaced Abey on Navy’s next possession and went the rest of the way.
Niumatalolo thought it was a shoulder injury and did not know the severity immediately after the game. He said the coaching staff would have a better idea about Abey’s condition on Monday.
Lewis led Navy to touchdowns on both drives he directed, finding wide receivers Brandon Colon and Tyler Carmona in the end zone for scoring passes of 16 and 8 yards. Those two late scores only served to make the final score more respectable as the Owls pretty much dominated the rematch of last year’s AAC Championship game.
“You’ve got to give Temple credit. I thought they played well,” Niumatalolo said. “We just could not stop them in that first half, which was tough. Our drives we finished with field goals so we were playing from behind. They played well on defense, too. They made us grind everything out.”
Fullback Chris High returned to action after missing one game with a neck injury, but mustered a mere 38 yards on 12 carries. Temple stacked the box with eight defenders on almost every play in holding Navy to a season-low 136 rushing yards. The Owls routinely brought the safeties up in run support as the Mids averaged just 2.4 yards per carry.
“They lined up the way they did against Army. Some eight-man front and some 50. It’s not really that big of a deal. We see a 50 every day,” Niumatalolo said. “Air Force plays it, Army plays it. Four other teams this year played us in a 50. I don’t know if it was so much schematically, they just played well. You have to tip your hat to their kids for playing hard.”
Navy now has a full week to get ready for Southern Methodist (6-2, 3-1), which comes to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Nov. 11. The Mustangs currently sit in second place of the West Division, two games ahead of the Midshipmen.
“We’ve got to regroup real quickly. It’s tough to win and we need to find a way to move on,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got SMU coming. SMU is playing really, really well. We have to see how we can play better.”
Temple provided an indication of what was to come when it marched downfield with ease on the game’s opening possession. Versatile receiver Isaiah Wright did much of the damage, catching two passes for 19 yards and taking a handoff for a 29-yard run. Navy stiffened in the red zone with freshman Micah Farrar breaking up a pass on third down, forcing Temple to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Aaron Boumerhi.
Perry returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards, finding a seam on the right side and showing his speed in blazing past several defenders. Carmona committed the block in the back penalty on second down and that short-circuited the opening possession.
Moehring came on and booted a career-long 48-yard field goal to tie the score 3-3 at the 8:51 mark of the first period.
Temple needed just six plays and 3:13 to drive 84 yards for a touchdown on its second possession. Nutile completed all five passes he attempted, connecting with Jennings for a 40-yard scoring strike. Merchant was beaten badly in man-to-man coverage on the play.
Navy was forced to punt on its second possession and that enabled Temple to gain some separation. The Owls gave the Midshipmen a taste of their own medicine by moving 88 yards in 12 plays and taking more than six minutes off the clock.
Backup cornerback Khaylan Williams was victimized on consecutive plays to close the drive, missing a tackle that enabled Kirkwood to pick up 19 yards and set up first-and-goal from the 8-yard line. Williams then allowed Kirkwood to get behind him for an 8-yard touchdown catch that made it 17-3 with 9:35 left in the second quarter.
Navy salted away the remaining time with an epic 19-play drive that lasted 9:35. The Midshipmen third down and fourth down situations to keep the drive alive, but could not punch the ball into the end zone.
Temple was not at all fooled by a reverse on third down from the 4-yard line, dropping Perry for a 2-yard loss. Faced with four-and-goal from the six, Niumatalolo was forced to send out Moehring for a 24-yard field goal that made it 17-6 at halftime.
“We had to grind out everything in the first half. We weren’t finishing with touchdowns and they were just gashing us,” Niumatalolo said. “So they were gashing us and we were fighting for everything on the other side. It was a tough night for us.”
Navy got the ball to start the second half, providing an opportunity to pull within four points with a touchdown. Things went bad from the start as officials ruled that Zach Fraade called for a fair catch on the kickoff although replays showed he did not.
The Mids were forced to start from the 4-yard line as a result, although fullback Chris High got them immediately out of the hole with a 12-yard gain on first down. Things fizzled quickly from there, however, with Abey gaining just three yards on three successive keepers – forcing Navy to punt for the second time in the game.
Temple went right downfield on its opening possession of the second half, helped along by an unnecessary roughness penalty on safety Sean Williams. That 15-yard penalty brought the ball into Navy territory and Nutile hooked up with Jennings for a 34-yard touchdown toss on the very next play. Merchant got beat again along the sideline on the play, which gave the Owls a 23-6 advantage.
Navy answered with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that was jump-started by a pass over the middle to slotback Darryl Bonner on third down. Bonner slipped out of the backfield and got open for a 29-yard strike from Abey that brought the ball into Temple territory.
Abey missed a wide-open Bonner for what would have been a touchdown, throwing into traffic instead. Perry saved his quarterback by making a great catch for a 26-yard gain and that set up Navy’s second touchdown of the night.
Confronted with third-and-goal from the 6-yard line, offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper dug into his bag of tricks and came up with a dandy. Bonner took a direct snap and pitched the ball to fellow slotback Perry, who then passed to a wide-open Abey in the end zone. That six-yard scoring strike, the first pass of Perry’s career and Abey’s first touchdown catch, cut the deficit to 24-14 with 6:05 to go in the third quarter.
It mattered little because Navy’s defense just could not muster a stop. This time, Temple marched 81 yards in 11 plays while converting on third down twice. Merchant got beaten for a long pass for the third time in the game, stumbling just as it appeared he had a bead on the ball. Jennings hauled in a 33-yard completion and that set up a 3-yard touchdown toss from Nutile to tight end Jake Robinson that gave Temple a commanding 31-13 lead.
“We don’t have any excuses. We were rested, we had a lot of guys back. They just flat-out beat us,” Niumatalolo said.